‘Just the mom in me:’ counselor helps create Huron’s own food pantry

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Ridhima L. Kodali, Managing Editor

Emily Mashal is a food pusher. 

She’s always telling people to eat. She’s always trying to give people food. And she’s always the one ordering lunch and asking people what they want. 

It’s just her personality. 

“I think it’s the mom in me,” Mashal said. “I just want everyone to have food and for me food is love.”

So when she witnessed a student wearing slides in a Chemistry class because they could not afford to buy close-toed shoes for Chemistry labs. She jumped on it. 

“In our community that has so many resources,” Mashal said. “We should be able to provide more to our students than what is available, or at least access resources in our community and bring them into our school.” 

Although, with the help of teacher Veronica Choe, she was able to get those student shoes, after hearing they suffered a major food shortage she felt that she needed to do more. 

“I thought in my head that ‘oh no,  we have to do better, we have to do better, this shouldn’t be happening,’” Mashal said. “ Our whole community came together and was able to support the student, but we know there’s a lot more students that need support, and this is just one way.” 

So Mashal made a visit to Neutral Zone — a teen center and community partner — with the help of Assistant Principal Michael Sumerton, she started the application process to implement a food pantry at Huron High School, Oct. of 2019. 

“If we’re giving food to students,” Mashal said. “We’re just showing them in a small way that someone cares about them, and they’re important. It is just one thing in a really tough time right now that we can do, to support our community.”

This process took about five months to complete and Mashal had to go through certain trainings. 

The food pantry got approved February of 2020. 

“ I think of every student in the building as my student,” Mashal said. “I try to take care of every student as if they were my own kids. So, if my kid came to school hungry I’d want someone to feed them.” 

Until the lockdown had started in March over 100 students accessed the food pantry for either the grocery pickup or taking snacks after school. 

“ There’s a stigma to getting free food,” Mashal said. “ If students are in need or not, if a student comes to get food they can get food, it doesn’t matter. We have such a stark contrast and socioeconomic status.”

She added, “there’s some kids that drive brand new cars to school and there’s kids that struggle to be able to afford food. We want to kind of smash that stigma and anybody can access it whoever needs it and we want to provide food to whoever you know is coming into the pantry.”

Once AAPS shut down, the food pantry shut down. 

A year later, March of 2021 is when the food pantry started ramping up again with two different components: a partnership with food gatherers (provides Huron with a budget every month of groceries and the ability to do pickups once a week) and a community donation pathway. 

“ A lot of students right now are not loving the amount of food they’re getting for school lunch,” Mashal said. “ We’ve kind of seen that as a global issue throughout Washtenaw County. So increasing the number of snacks that are available to students during the school day is really important.”

In fact, Mashal brought 500 snacks as a donation to one of the four locations of where the food pantry is located. Those locations are at the counseling office, the 9th/10th grade office, 12th grade office and the training room (athletic wing) and the next day they were down to just four snacks. 

“We want this to be a place where kids feel as though they can come,” Mashal said. “Be heard and be supported in any aspect to help them learn and grow into the best versions of themselves.” 

Snacks aren’t restocked quickly due to them being mostly community donations,  but with food gatherers Huron has fully stocked toiletry for families in need and pickups are once a week. 

“ It’s kind of like a passion project for me to go around our community and spread the word,” Mashal said.  “The first pickup that I did, we had this huge palette of food and we went from nothing to being able to bring in two cars full of food to the building and it went by, it went so quickly.”

Currently Mashal is  working on spreading the word on social media and a partnership with the University of Michigan Community Scholars Program for potential monthly produce pickups on Friday afternoons or the weekends. U of M is also working on doing a food drive within West Quad. 

“I  am kind of knowing the culture of the community,” Mashal said. “Growing up here I feel like I have the unique skill set to be able to connect groups that want to help and know how to make those connections happen.”

As of now Mashal has about four volunteers helping out with the food pantries. She hopes to gain more volunteers and pass on the responsibility to students in training them in food safety. In terms of looking out for expiration dates and making sure the food is safe to eat. 

 “ It would go a long way, if we just had families that are able to and want to support one thing,” Mashal said. “Even the whole year like that would make a very very big difference. It breaks my heart when I hear that kids are coming in and we don’t have anything.” 

The food pantry had received a $500 grant and as for Mashal she wants the food pantry to be utilized and have more students use the pantry.  Her next project is to be determined. 

This is my community,” Mashal said. “This is my home. I love it here and I believe in this school. Let’s  make this a shining star in our community. When kids have come and said, ‘you know I don’t have lunch.’” “It was very heartbreaking to me and this shouldn’t happen at any school and it’s not going to happen at our high school.”